In an interview with Marketplace.org host Kai Ryssdal, Vassar College history Professor Quincy Mills, describes the black-owned barbershop as one of the first ways African-American men become entrepreneurs. Author of a new book on the subject called Cutting Along the Color Line: Black Barbers and Barber Shops in America, Mills says the history of these barber shops is deeply entwined with the history of slavery.
After the Civil War, barbering became a way for some African-Americans “to find some little pockets to sort of figure out how they could at least earn a little bit of money, and control their time — which of course was what slaves did not have control over.”
“So barbering still serves as that avenue for men, whether they want to own a barber shop or just work in [one]. But also, barber shops provide this sort of central hub, if you will, for communities across the country to understand the nature of their respective communities. And so I would argue that’s just as vital to an economy as is the number of jobs one can generate.”
Story transcript: A history of the African-American barbershop
(Photo: San Diego History Center, Norman Bayard Collection via: Pacific San Diego Magazine)